Opera, round 2

Revisiting the Opera

It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong.

Colloquial expression

While I'm not a big man, standing only 5'10" above the earth, I have lived long enough to know that it never hurts to be flexible in admitting when you've jumped to conclusions too quickly. As promised, I will now attempt to give a more unbiased browser review, as I write this article in Opera 8.5.

This past weekend, I forced myself to use Opera exclusively to browse the internet. In my last article, I made a few off-the-cuff remarks about it, due largely to my ignorance as a relatively new Opera user. I had also pitted it head-to-head against Firefox, which really wasn't really fair as I'm already very familiar with Firefox.

So, having used it a little more, here are the things that I really like about Opera that it does well, or even better, than my beloved foxy browser…

  • Better RSS
  • Better Tool-Tips
  • X for Each Tab
  • Nicer Tab Drags
  • Nicer Buttons
  • Small-Screen Mode

Feed Me!

First, let's take a look at Opera's RSS handling. It is pretty well-done, in that it adds Feeds between Bookmarks and Tools at the top of the window. By default, it comes with several suggested feeds, such as CNet and Wired, which shows that Opera is doing more than just catering to typical consumers.

As far as actually reading the feeds, it uses an email-esque interface, showing available feeds as an inbox waiting to be read. After you have read them, you can either leave them (for reading later), or delete them. This is a step above Bloglines which hides a feed once it has been read.

What I found odd though, is that Opera has a paper-clip icon, as if an RSS feed could be sent out with an attachment. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think this method exists. If it does, I definitely need to start taking advantage of it! This is probably just a minor oversight of using the email interface for RSS.

I think I still prefer Bloglines, because it isn't localized, but Opera handles feeds alot better than Firefox, which for some reason lumps them together as Bookmarks. To be honest, I hadn't really used either browser for RSS, just because the idea of a globalized favorites list is more appealing to me. As such, I appreciate that when there are no feeds subscribed to, Opera simply does not display Feeds in the toolbar.

Nice Touches

One thing I really like about Opera is its native enhanced tool-tips. While at first glance this might not seem like a big deal, it allows for the complete removal of the Status bar, because the only reason I use it is to check where a link is leading to. With Opera's tooltips, you get a little pop-up revealing the URL. This can look a little odd on sites with JavaScript tool-tips, such as Particletree, because there is twice the tooltip sweetness…


This really is not a major factor though, considering most of the sites you will visit probably do not use this cool effect. Also, since page loading progress can be displayed in the address bar, this adds some more vertical space to view the actual web page with no status bar. In my mind, this makes up for the inability to put all navigation on one line, as in Firefox.

Keeping Tabs (+ Buttons)

Much like Safari, Opera has the option of placing a X to close a page right on the tab itself, rather than the out-of-place icon in Firefox, which is to the far right of the tab bar, while tabs themselves arrange from the left. Opera also makes great use of alpha transparency when dragging and dropping tabs. This wins out over Firefox 1.5 beta which only has a small arrow icon arrow indicating the tab drop position.

What I like about Opera is that it also handles buttons very well. By default, they look a little nicer than normal Windows buttons, and have a cool light-up hover state. This same hover effect is also applied to scrollbars, but I'm not sure why. It makes sense for buttons, since they are a bit different looking than standard OS ones, but it gets irritating seeing the scrollbar light up as I move the mouse cursor from a web page to my Miranda IM list.

At any rate, the Opera buttons are cool. Unlike Safari's, they can be styled by CSS. Don't get me wrong, I think that the Apple aqua buttons are just fine, since that's what the rest of OSX looks like, but it's frustrating as a designer to have your entire layout just the way you like it, except for bright blue buttons.

Minimize Me

After being thoroughly corrected via the comments on my last post, I took another look at the small-screen feature. From what I can tell, it displays the page the way that a handheld device would see it. It uses the scalability of the zoom feature on some elements, such as inline images, and is stripped down to text-only styling, to basically a content-only view of a website.

I could see this being increasingly useful, as Opera becomes more and more prevalent on mobile devices such as cellular phones, palm pilots, and the like. This will enable designers and developers to test their sites without having to drain their batteries and minutes surfing the net just to preview their layouts.

Summary and Suggestions

Hopefully this article accomplished its goal, to offer a look at Opera in the good light it deserves, without a hint of my typical cynical sarcasm. That being said, I do have a bit of constructive criticism to add for the end-user and lastly for the Opera team themselves…

For Users:

Be sure to go to Preferences › Advanced › Browsing, and set your page Loading to either "Redraw Instantly" or "Redraw when loaded," depending on preference. If you are on broadband, this will slightly speed up page rendering, because generally pages do not take a full-second to load. Also, go to History and set Check Documents to "Always," as this will keep Opera from caching often updated sites, and will display current news.

For Team Opera:

You guys have got to get this browser handling CSS correctly. Sure, it's feature-rich, and for the average consumer, that's probably all that matters. As a designer, it's already frustrating enough dealing with IE6(Internet Explorer 6) bugs. Seeing as how you are obviously a more web-savvy group than Microsoft, please get your rendering working correctly, meaning negative margin / padding handling, as well as not counting border towards the overall width of a box.

While you're at it, please add a search engine such as Answers.com or Dictionary.com to your browser. This is something I use often in Firefox, and is a must-have for me before I'll make the switch to Opera.

Also, bring back the text-select icon, rather than the default arrow, when the cursor is hovering over regular text. I realize what you're trying to do, make moving the mouse smoother and less distracting, but it has the opposite effect when something that is expected to happen does not.

To re-cap, designers want full CSS compliance, and users need familiarity.